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Washington D.C. – The United States has not resettled any Unaccompanied Refugee Minors in Fiscal Year 2021, according to the refugee resettlement organization Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service – one of only two organizations who resettle this particularly vulnerable population. For refugee minors, the State Department identifies children overseas who are eligible for resettlement in the U.S., but do not have a parent or a relative available and committed to providing for their long-term care. In the past five years, unaccompanied refugee children have come from Afghanistan, Eritrea and the Democratic Republic of Congo, among others.
“These children are perhaps the most vulnerable in the world, and they need our protection,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, President and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. “They have patiently waited, jumped through every hoop, and done everything our government has asked of them. It’s heartbreaking to think our nation is failing to keep its word to children in need.”
Unaccompanied Refugee Minors are subject to the same stringent admissions criteria for adult refugee individuals and families set by the Trump administration for FY 2021. While President Biden has proposed revised policy that would modify how many and which categories of refugees can be admitted, he has not officially taken the executive action required to implement his proposal.
“We must erase the moral stain that was President Trump’s refugee policy. This is not a herculean task that requires political maneuvering – refugee policy is firmly established as the purview of the Executive branch,” noted Vignarajah.
In Fiscal Years 2015, 2016, and 2017, the U.S. resettled 294, 212, and 243 Unaccompanied Refugee Minors, respectively; by Fiscal Year 2020, that number drastically fell to just 101. Despite zero admissions of Unaccompanied Refugee Minors so far in FY 2021, there is, however, a growing need for their resettlement, particularly in Ethiopia, Eritrea, and the Democratic Republic of Congo – as noted by the administration in its February 12th report to Congress. With former President Trump’s narrow admissions categories still in place, some children are at risk of aging out of program eligibility.
“When minors age out of the program, nothing guarantees they’ll be resettled as adults or that they’ll receive special consideration,” said Vignarajah. “We are the only country in the world who has the capacity, experience and expertise to resettle these children. The moral imperative for the U.S. to lead on this could not be more compelling than it is right now.”
The unprecedented low numbers in resettlement of Unaccompanied Refugee Minors mirrors the record-low numbers witnessed among the general population of refugees resettled in the U.S. As of the beginning of April 2021, halfway through the current fiscal year, the Biden administration had only resettled 2,050 refugees – on track for the lowest admissions levels in modern history.
“For refugees stuck in limbo, inaction is action. It’s the only thing standing between danger and a long-awaited airport reunion with family and loved ones. For the sake of these families, and for the sake of our humanitarian reputation, the time to act is now,” concluded Vignarajah. “The most important step in rebuilding the resettlement infrastructure is for the Biden administration to expeditiously issue its revised determination on refugee admissions.”